Asking Art People for
Gallery or Dealer Referrals
Artists who I don't know and have never heard of regularly ask me for names, numbers, or contact information of galleries or dealers that might be interested in their art. I'm not sure why they think approaching total strangers like this is a good idea or even makes any sense because it sure doesn't make sense to me. Why? For a number of reasons which you can read about here. While we're at it, I'll also talk about why the process of making referrals in the art business is a lot more complicated than you might think:
* The most important reason why making referrals like this makes no sense is that I have no idea who you are. I also have no idea what your art looks like, what it's about, how much of it you've made, how much you're capable of making, how regularly you create new work, what your art plans are for the future, how you are to work with, whether you're reliable, how you handle deadlines, what your career history is, and on and on. Even if I've heard of you or am somewhat familiar with your art, but don't know you well, I'm still basically in the same position. And in the art business, people who don't know you are highly unlikely to risk referring you to galleries or dealers they have established relationships with.
* Many artists mistakenly believe that any gallery will show their art as long as they like it. They think all a gallery has to do is look at their art on their website, social media pages, etc. Nothing can be further from the truth. Regardless of how much a gallery might like your art, they are very specific in who they show, what they show, and why they show it, and what they need to know before showing it is even a possibility.
* No matter how well connected someone is or how many people they know in the art world, they can't possibly refer you to anyone unless they have some idea why they're doing it and what those referrals might have to gain by getting involved with you.
* Before anyone can make referrals that make sense, they have to be ready to answer plenty of questions about why they think your art is worth paying attention to. In other words, they have to defend any referrals they make. Otherwise they won't be taken seriously. This means getting up to speed on you and your art. It's unlikely that people who don't already know you will want spend time on this.
* Understand that when you contact people about any aspect of your art, you're essentially asking them for favors. Let's say someone is willing to take the time. Do you have all of the necessary images and materials organized, presented, easily accessible, and available for them to study? Are you offering anything in return for their help? What's in it for them? Don't expect anything if you're not fully prepared to participate and assist at every point along the way, and somehow reward them for any assistance. Even if you do all of this, getting them involved is a long shot at best.
* Anyone who refers you to people they know must be able to vouch for you as a person as well as an artist. They want to be sure you not only understand how the gallery system works and how to work well with others, but also are aware of the responsibilities and obligations involved in working with a gallery or dealer. If they don't know all that, don't expect them to share contacts.
* You put people you don't know and have no relationships with in awkward or uncomfortable positions by asking them for contact information.
* Art people's contacts are personal, private, and not freely shared with anyone who happens to ask. These are often relationships that have often taken years or even decades to build.
* No one wants to appear presumptuous by referring you to a gallery, like they know what the gallery is looking for or should be looking for, or that they know better than the gallery what's best for them. Suggesting or referring art or artists to galleries they know implies that those galleries can't find artists themselves and need other people to help them.
* Most artists who are looking for names, numbers, or contacts have no idea what's involved in presenting their art to new dealers or galleries and are often not at all prepared to do so. Anyone you ask for contact information, if by some chance they might be willing to give it, has to see that you're prepared to handle the introduction first.
* Most galleries are already overwhelmed with artists contacting them about their art. The last thing they need is for people to refer even more artists to them.
* Galleries, dealers, and other fine arts professionals have their own peculiar tastes in art. In fact they are a lot like collectors, the only difference between the two is that galleries have what you might call rotating collections. One of the great mysteries of the art business is how and why galleries choose the artists they do. Knowledgeable art people are not inclined to interfere in that process by referring new artists and jeopardizing any existing relationships the might have.
* Dealers and galleries like to discover artists on their own, not have others do it for them. In other words, they don't particularly look favorably on referrals. The last thing they want is for people to run around saying they made the introduction or are responsible for a gallery showing a particular artist.
* Gallery owners have their own inner circles of close friends, confidants, and business associates whose knowledge and opinions they value and trust. They rarely step outside of these circles when considering prospective new artists to work with.
* If a gallery is interested in your art, especially if you live and work in the same area, and like the same types of art, artists, or pages on social media, they are probably already aware of you. The art community is surprisingly close-knit and if you start getting traction with your art, word begins to get around. If their interest in your work continues to grow, they'll typically reach out to you on their own. They far prefer contacting you than you contacting them.
* Art people don't want to risk jeopardizing their longstanding relationships, either business or personal, by referring artists who they know nothing about. Doing that is a great way for them to compromise and even ruin these relationships.
* As if all this isn't enough, I'm always reluctant to give gallery contact information to artists I don't know because I have no idea what they might say about me or my referral when they approach those galleries. They could say anything even to the point where they might misrepresent whatever conversations we had. And I sure don't want to be on the hook for anything like that.
Have questions about finding galleries to show your art? Make a consulting appointment. I'll review your art and background information and make specific recommendations on how to maximize the chances you'll find what you're looking for. You are always welcome to contact me here.
(art by Claudia Hart)
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